October 22 is International Stuttering Awareness Day. It is a great opportunity to educate ourselves and our communities about what stuttering is and what it is not. Additionally, people who don't stutter can learn how to be allies to the community.
As a person who stutters and loves her community, I make a special point to educate people about stuttering and the Disability experience. Sometimes, though, I get a little stuck on how to go about it. I want to do more than just let people know about stuttering; I want to celebrate our community and help us move forward. I don’t want stuttering to define us; I want it to be integrated into our identities with everything else that makes us unique individuals. And while we’re more than just our speech, I don’t want people to overlook my experiences as a person who stutters either, because those experiences are an important part of who I am.
With all these goals in mind, figuring out how to raise awareness can be a daunting task. I’m just one person, so how can I make an impact in my personal and professional lives, not to mention the world? Here are a few ideas I wanted to share with you, in no particular order….
Ain’t No Party Like A Stuttering Party
People without disabilities or who don’t stutter can’t even imagine us getting together and partying. Whenever I’m around people who share experiences similar to my own, I have a great time. Get together with your local stuttering community and have a picnic, sing karaoke, dance, play pinball... do whatever you want! Make it an open invitation (you can even use meetup.com) so new people can discover and join in. Making space for us to have fun is extremely important and a great bonding experience. We all need to a place where we can safely share our gripes, our successes, our joy and laughter. If you want to wear matching shirts or stuttering awareness sashes, that’s awesome, but not necessary. Just getting together and having fun is a huge deal in itself!
Fun + Food + Stuttering = Awareness
As an Italian-American I tend to overdo it with the food, so I think I have some expertise in this area. This year my plan is to bring stuttering awareness cupcakes to the office. While my co-workers are scarfing down the cupcakes, they’ll discover little fortune-cookie-type messages explaining how to talk to a person who stutters. There is plenty of information online about stuttering —just make sure it’s the good stuff and not that crapola about Tony Robbins curing a person who stutters in 7 minutes because he was traumatized by Rocky and Bullwinkle (no, I’m not making this up). The National Stuttering Association (NSA), The Stuttering Foundation and Friends who Stutter. Both organizations stress self-acceptance, community, and treatment options for people who stutter. Not everyone is looking to be fluent and it is important for people outside our community to know that we don’t need to be fixed. Why not provide this type of information with decorated cookies or cupcakes?!
Whatever you do, remember to provide resources when you’re doing community outreach. You might want to make a list of your top ten links, organizations, or videos. Sometimes people are too shy to ask questions upfront, in which case it helps to leave them with information they can follow up on and digest it in their own time. There are some great podcasts like Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Stutter Talk, and Stuttering is Cool where real life experiences are explored. There are also many wonderful communities that can be found online. One of my favorites is Stutter Social, where you can communicate with people who stutter around the world in real time. From October 1-22 there is the online conference for International Stuttering Awareness. Read articles and view videos from all over the world and engage with authors on the topics they present.
There are large and small ways to raise funds in the stuttering community. The most obvious way is to donate directly to an organization of your choosing. Another, less expensive way is to organize a fundraising event. The event can be anything you like, as long as it gets charitable people together in the same room. I once produced a comedy show with an all-stuttering lineup to help raise funds for the NSA. Besides earning money, these events are lots of fun and help publicly promote whatever organizations you’re passionate about. You can also promote charitable causes through your own work.
Extra! Extra! Stutter All About It!
Did you know that radio stations NEED to do public service announcements (PSAs) as part of their community outreach? Why not make it a PSA about stuttering? I found the National Stuttering Association when I was a teenager because of a radio PSA and it changed my life. Talk to some of your local stations and see how you can bring stuttering to a bigger audience. While you’re at it, why not contact a few local news outlets? National Stuttering Awareness week is the perfect hook for them to run a piece on stuttering.
This subject is worth an entire article to itself! Between tweeting, facebooking, blogging/vlogging, pinning, and whatever else people are doing these days, there’s a ton of stuff you can do to raise awareness and celebrate the Stuttering community. Here are a few ideas.
Now, memes have a fairly broad definition, but for our purposes I’m just talking about those little pictures people post online. Memes are like visual sound bites that help you get your point across in a quick and entertaining way. When posting any image online, you might want to include a message about what it means to you and why you are sharing it. We don’t always get to talk about our experience with stuttering, so saying something about its significance in your life will go a long way toward educating others.
Traditionally, we as people who stutter haven’t had much control over our representation in the media. The Disability community has adopted the slogan, “nothing about us without us,” meaning that we deserve self-representation in all aspects of our lives. Now, with the digital tools to self-publish anything we want, we are closer than ever to realizing this ideal.
Of course, the internet is not always a nice place, or even a safe one. It’s always a good idea to take precautions before sharing anything online. If you are a young person, check with your family and friends before uploading and be prepared for potential backlash. Assume there will always be somebody who has a problem with what you’re saying, but also know that if you speak from a place that is authentic and true to yourself, you will touch people. Other videos, like skits or slideshows, can also contribute to the library of images and diversity of content about stuttering.
Sometimes you just can’t get around to creating a video or a blog, but you might still want to share some other videos/blogs that represent your views. When sharing content online, keep in mind that less is more; it might be better to post twice a day over the week instead of all at once. Marketing research says the peak time for Facebook traffic is 11AM (apparently you’re all sneaking it at work!) When sharing a link, be sure to include comments or questions so people can engage with your post. It might start some great conversations on your feed!
People you admire who also happen to stutter
So many stuttering “role models” are people who don’t stutter openly. Look beyond the awareness posters and images of “people who overcame” and look for the athletes, professors, reporters, podcasters, authors, and people YOU identify with. Post these pictures and bios to your social media outlets and let people know why they are important to you.
The following is some of the stuttering awareness material that I have produced over the years. If you have any links you’d like to contribute, please do so in the comments section! I hope something here motivates you to talk to others about stuttering!